Auction this! The eBay Chronicles

By Maralyn Lois Polak

Hey, have I told you eBay is one of the things I think maybe I should be doing to vastly improve my life, besides moving to San Francisco, getting a Visla, going Macrobiotic, signing up for NetFlix, volunteering in a soup kitchen, visiting Saugerties, buying a Mini Cooper, reading Adorno or Speed Dating?

So I actually attend eBay University, thinking I’d pick up a few useful clicking skills as a “recovering collector” to enable me to conveniently discard the accumulated detritus from a decade of living in one place.

I find out about it, natch, via a forwarded e-mail from a chat-room contact I know slightly, who happens to also live in Philadelphia.

Actually, eBay U’s live and in-person – a very fast-paced, intensely informational Saturday seminar – trainers traveling to major cities all over America to recruit new sellers for the phenomenally successful online auction service.

Just $39 – up from $25 for two – initiates you into the many mysteries of this spectacularly burgeoning global business, generating – literally – billions of bucks, some of which can be yours, yours, yours!

I attend eBay U with my old friend “Jackie the Concierge,” a former boutique owner and auction aficionada currently involved with the hospitality industry. Both of us recognize the potentially addictive allure of eBay, yet, so far, we’ve successfully avoided it. She’s not computer literate. I’m passionate about other pursuits. She practically has an anxiety attack contemplating being bombarded by so many details.

Whoa! The place is mobbed! Hundreds and hundreds of people thronging our corner of the Convention Center Marriott to register. Retirees! Honeymooners! Homemakers! The under-or-unemployed! Reformed socialists! Thrilled at this low-risk opportunity to become entrepreneurial despite a dwindling economy.

They even give us free coffee and tea. I choose Tazo “Calm.” I suspect I’ll need it.

Griff, our genial, avuncular middle-aged moderator, handles the microphone with all the promotional aplomb of an Est graduate, smooth and fluent and gently authoritative and energetic and occasionally funny, wise in the ways of putting an audience not just at ease, but into a kind of post-orgasmic trance of instant acceptance.

There’s a punchy Power Point presentation, a great manual – the sign of an effective seminar – and a nifty free chartreuse pen. We’re pumped!

Modestly mentioning – BLUSH – he’s brought along 200 copies of his own book, “The Official eBay Bible,” Griff sells out every last one during the breaks, and then the rapt attendees queue up for his signature, the better to resell someday on eBay! Wow! And then we learn about PayPal! Yay! The proceedings have a simply miraculous feel, like we’re listening to the minister at a tent-meeting.

Oh, we’re infused with the spirit – the spirit of commerce.

For months I’ve been hearing so many eBay success stories, verging on the “friend of friend” urban-legend variety:

  • My AOL friend “Trish” in Bellingham’s mother has done “very well” for herself selling signed first editions of books, the latest being a John Grisham for $500.

  • “Van,” someone in an AOL chat room, brags he sells hard-to-find music CDs and movie DVDs via eBay to folks in Asia at huge markups.

  • The next door neighbor of “Harley” around the corner from me makes a steady $1,500 every month selling various merchandise on eBay, including used books.

  • “Ken,” a physician’s assistant who moved to the suburbs with his lover “Trent,” sell kitchenware on eBay and is branching out into retro fashion items.

  • “Rella” on Long Island scours local flea markets and house sales for bargain-priced curios which she re-sells on eBay at amazing profits.

  • “Kirby,” a Pacific Northwest filmmaker, sells stuff on eBay while waiting for his latest flick to snag distribution.

Beats working! Or does it?

Walking to a bus stop in the rain after the seminar ends, my buddy and I consider the possibilities.

Clearly, selling on eBay would be hugely time-consuming, a full-time gig, all those procedures to follow. Sure, shopping is fun. But then there’s taking photos, crafting descriptions, inserting your listings, watching your auction(s) like a hawk, praying your buyer is legit, verifying payment, packing, calculating fees and postage and insurance and mailing costs, doing the shipping. Almost sounds as laborious as a Woody Allen movie, doesn’t it? All that effort!

In short, we decide eBay’s really great for shopaholics, Internet addicts, detail-loving Virgos and /or obsessive-compulsives.

But not us.

We realize she could make more money with less effort just by taking one bed-and-breakfast guest. As for me, I’d really rather write.

Now, onward, to Adorno!